Tough and Large Cuts: Slower Means Moister

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Meats with a significant amount of tough connective tissue must be cooked to a minimum of 160–180°F/70–80°C to dissolve their collagen into gelatin, but that temperature range is well above the 140–150°F/60–65°C at which the muscle fibers lose their juices. So it’s a challenge to make tough meats succulent. The key is to cook slowly, at or just above the collagen-dissolving minimum, to minimize the drying-out of the fibers. The meat should be checked regularly and taken off the heat as soon as its fibers are easily pushed apart (“fork tender”). The connective tissue itself can help, because once dissolved, its gelatin holds onto some of the juice squeezed from the muscle fibers and thus imparts a kind of succulence to the meat. The shanks, shoulders, and cheeks of young animals are rich in collagen and so make fairly forgiving, gelatin-thickened braises.